My youngest child is about to turn 8. A birthday should be an occasion for celebration and joy—which it is but… Financial concerns do have a reality to them. I am a single parent and full time student with one year left in her double degree. Financially, being a single parent in Sydney sucks the proverbial, just because of the rental market and living expenses, even in the cheapest suburbs in Sydney. But, when you are reliant on government assistance to keep a roof over your head, your youngest child turning eight-years-old means the single-parent pension gets turned off.
Insert here the judgemental voice. Well get a job etc etc. I hear ya. But, in reality this picture wouldn’t change an awful lot, except that I would be working for less money instead of studying, and paying money to childcare and it would stay that way till my kids could work too. I have been in fulltime work since I was 16-years-old except for a moment when I went to TAFE to finish my HSC. My children were born into a long-term relationship at a reasonable age (28). And then crisis happened.
My partner started becoming abusive and after a year of counsellors, DV groups and living life on eggshells I left with my then two-year-old daughter and pregnant with another one. We lived in a refuge for almost three months (that is a dramatic story for another rant). We were turned down for emergency housing twice (apparently, I had enough assistance to pay rent. Which was not the problem when trying to secure rental property at the time of the Sydney rental crisis).
So, we moved from Bondi to the women’s refuge, then to a bedroom in my mother’s small house in Rosemeadow (near Campbelltown NSW). I can elaborate on the culture shock at a later blog. I continued to search for housing for years, despite having a great rental history, there was SO much competition in the rental market. Families were lined up at every inspection it was criminal the lack of secure accommodation that was available, even if you had no problems paying.
Property is a subject for a future blog, but we got our first place in the Macarthur area only with the assistance of a caseworker from Brighter Futures which was then managed by DOCS (Department of Community Services) now FACS.
Life on benefits has always been hard, even when I wasn’t paying rent. You don’t live like most people do, there are no luxuries. No magazines, no new clothes, no concerts or nights out, no going out to nice restaurants. Our TV is my mother’s old one (which we still have), my computer is my Uncle’s old one. I used to catch public transport everywhere (which in Campbelltown is beyond a joke) but thanks to my family I bought a car and learned how to drive it. I guess what I’m trying to do here is not have a whinge, but place some context around what you have money for on social security.
So, this is not to complain. I am completely grateful for the opportunities that I have both to parent my children and to attend University. I live in a lovely old house now with a backyard where I grow food. I’m a pro at creating a beautiful life on not much. But, I’m almost finished my degree and now the government is cutting the money to not enough to even pay my rent and buy food.
I do not for a second think that I am the only person in this boat, but I do think that this system needs to change to keep up with current living expenses.
No one plans for crisis to happen. Since I have moved to this area and doing a lot of unpaid community work, I have met an incredible amount of families and individuals who have been disadvantaged by work accidents, or by raising a sick or disabled child. I have learned a lot about poverty and how reality differs from the poor bashing ‘dole bludger’ narrative which is often spun by the media in this country. It is easy to publicly bash the dis-empowered population from a position of power, regardless of existing research and data about the creation of systemic poverty.
But for the purposes of this post, shouldn’t the role of social security in our very wealthy country be to support us and help us get back to a place where we can be of the most benefit to our children, our community and the rest of the country?